Skip to main content

Full text of "My Country And My People"

See other formats


other words of the same sound. What happened then was that
there was a great deal of confusion, and before the script was
more or less fixed in the Han Dynasty, we had a great number
of such "borrowed" words indicating different things. Neces-
sity forced the Chinese to add a sign (called "radical") to
indicate the class of ideas which this particular/^ was intended
to refer to.

The use of phonetic symbols was not too exact, and hence we
have the following words, pronounced pao or p'ao in different
tones in modern Chinese, all written with the original
"package"-sign ( gj), but each taking a class-sign or radical, as

Thus pao plus a "hand" radical means to carry, plus a "foot"
means to run, plus "clothes" means a gown, plus an "eat" means
well-filledinstomach, plus "water" means a bubble, plus "fire" means
firecrackers, plus a "fish" means the name of a fish, plus "flesh"
means the womb, plus "stone" means a cannon, plus "mouth"
means to roar, plus "grass" means a flower bud, plus "rain"
means hail, plus a "knife" means to scrape. This was the adjust-
ment to solve the problem of homonyms.

But suppose the problem was not homonyms, suppose the
Chinese language had words like the English scraped, scratched,
and scalpel, or suppose the English people started out with a
basic phonetic picture for sc-a-p, they would have been forced
equally by necessity to distinguish between the sounds cape
and scape, or between scape and scrape, or between scrape and
scraped, or between scrape and scratch, and the result could not
have been anything except an alphabet with signs to denote
s, r, ed(t},p, ch, etc. Had the Chinese done this they too would
have had an alphabet, and consequently have had a more
widespread literacy.

Given, therefore, the monosyllabic character of the Chinese
language, it was almost inevitable that pictorial characters
were used. This fact alone has profoundly changed the charac-
ter and position of learning in China. By their very nature the
Chinese characters are not subject to changes in the spoken
tongue. The same symbol could be read in different ways in
different dialects or even languages, as the sign of the Christian
cross could be pronounced cross in English and croix in French.